Monday, November 2, 2009

tea is pronounced 'cha'

a loss for words, and in my wanting to transcribe the lovely of the mountains, the way the fog yawned misty and cold as i filled my basket with the winter tea harvest, how from a distance the tea rows resemble cartoon layers of aged wrinkles, i feel like this and more, china-girl smiles chuckling over my hesitancy, all will be dulled by my stick figure renderings. lin and i spent over two hours picking tea in Deep Mountain last saturday,cleanly plucking the stem right below the new leaves (lighter green and soft to the touch). i was intimated by the heavily clad tea girls in the distance (long boots, heavy sweaters, round saucer hats) with their robot reflexes and scissor-hands (they actually wear razors on their fingers). both lin and i disappointedly refused to believe that our weighed intake equaled to only 100NT... about 10usd. i joked that we would be eating measly that night. she retorted that i better pick up the pace. the tea girls send their overflowing baskets, which look like laundry hampers, down the mountain by a hanging cable cart. the winter harvest doesn't usually bring too much production and profit as the climate is becomes too cold and the leaves don't grow very large. a tea girl can usually make 1000NT a day, but most leave disappointed. Ping and Lon Lon weighed the leaves and told us there would not be much work more work for us to do that day. we ate another huge lunch (which always involves a type of soup- usually a meat stew- rice, sauteed veggies- such as bitter melon, bamboo shoots, greens tossed with baby shrimps- different cuts of assorted meats- some fried, some boiled). they brewed a large kettle of hot ginger tea and lowered the garage door to the warehouse to keep out the chill. i discovered that it was actually mrs. chang who started the tea business for the family. mr. chang was a simple gas station attendant who asked his wife to help bring home some more money. she was the first women ever to buy land on deep mountain. her strenght and confidence built up a business that now sells some of the finest high mountain oolong green tea in the county. the process:
1. Fresh Leaf
2. Withering (shaking of the leaves on the tarps: first outside usually 2x around every 20 min depends on the sun; move inside spread 2x every 30 min; after one hour move to smaller trays)
3. Static (means that the leaves sit for about 3-5 hours)
4. Rolling (machine tightening in cloth bags-not too hard- for 15-20 min to destroy leaf edge)
5. Fermentation (3-5 hours)
6. Baking (machine for 8 min @ 280C)
7. Rolling again (10 min)
9. Drying (wait until the second day: 3-4 hours - 4-5 times).

And whala! Tea! some people like it more baked, which we would do back at the house in a tiered metal oven. this makes the tea darker and more flavorful. i prefer the unbaked though... it is very delicate and tastes like vegetables. we also package the tea back at the house, different boxes for different businessmen, tea bags, usually loose and vacuum packaged though in this metal box that sounds like a bottle rocket when it sucks out the air, labels, cellophane clung with a hair dryer. friends, family, and random guests pop in and out to pick up packages and drink tea (small porcelain cups, tea table shaped like drift wood, unbaked, lightbaked, heavy baked tastes). Right now i am drinking high mountain unbaked tea from my water bottle back in Taipei and sharing the close quarters of Helen's new bachelor pad. i said goodbye to the chang family yesterday. hugging, and presents, and tears reflected emotions and ventures i am still absorbing- preliminiary sketches.

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